So many agents — hungry agents — and so few transactions to go around: It’s a three-ring circus out there.
As established agents, a large portion of our business comes from past clients and from their referrals. But some portion of the business of all agents will always be of the "new business" variety. In other words, we all find ourselves competing at some point. And none of us will win them all.
I have a little bee in my bonnet this week. It has to do with the myths vs. the reality of marketing our clients’ homes. And this little bee flew in as the door was nearly slammed on an opportunity to represent a seller recently. I say "nearly" because our would-be clients got it this time. In fact, they are getting it more often these days.
It seems that another agent had used the "my broker is bigger than theirs" argument, and I confess we saw it coming. As we made the decision to become independent brokers last fall, we knew that this would be used against us by our colleagues.
We knew this because our different approach would be such a tempting target. Gone for us is the big, unnecessary office with the big, unnecessary administration staff and management team. We have watched our clients’ needs and expectations change over the years and today they are interested only in quality and value.
The anchor suite in a class A office building, while impressive, serves no real purpose in the home-buying or selling process. It is an unneeded advertisement for the brokerage. It is for show.
But the show must go on.
I remember early in my real estate career listening to the president of my big brokerage give a presentation on the "successful listing presentation." He talked about competing with (lesser-known) Company B for a multimillion-dollar listing.
And he told us about how during his own dog-and-pony show he quite literally climbed up on the kitchen chair and, arms flailing, warned his audience, "When Bill and Margaret get off the plane to start looking for their new home, they will not be saying, ‘Let’s go find a Company B agent!’ Oh, no. We are nationally recognized!" …CONTINUED
And then he delivered the punch line to the agents, now hanging on his every word. "I got the listing, and the home sold in one day to a buyer represented by (drumroll, please …) Company B. Ha-ha-ha!"
The crowd went crazy.
I never got the joke. If, as a company, you represent more buyers than Company B, that helps your selling client how? Perhaps if the bulk of the inventory is flying off the shelves, pre-multiple listing service and through backroom networking, I can see an advantage.
But that was not the case then, circa-1999, and it is not the case now. Maybe in the Pony Express days of communication, without an Internet, the big office was in a position to facilitate the brokering of a "deal" like a game of "Go Fish." Today, that is just not the way it works.
Telling a dozen or three dozen agents at the company water cooler about my new listing is a low-percentage play when that same home is already on the computer screen of thousands or even tens of thousands of home seekers and their agents across the globe.
No one searches for a home by listing office. Despite this, the argument we are still hearing from the center ring is that the big companies can cast a broader net when it comes to marketing. That is partly true, but only in the sense that they have the resources to market their "brand" in a bigger way.
But, to whom are they marketing? They are targeting agents, of course. The idea that broker size matters where marketing of the client’s home is concerned is, today, pure baloney.
When we have the honor of interviewing for a listing, we have approximately one hour to differentiate ourselves from other agents, and when the customer’s biggest concern is, "What is my home worth?" communicating that distinction often becomes a hurried lightening round of "All About Me." From the time we are born agents, we are taught the listing routine.
First, you bring in the elephants and profess the power of your company. Then, you dazzle them with the fancy costumes and bury them in testimonials and glowing references. You roll out the marketing plan and trumpet that it is specifically choreographed for them, even though you have delivered this performance a hundred times. Only then do you talk about the price of admission.
So much of it is an act, and I have started to deviate from the script. I tend to err on the side of honesty these days. More often than not the clients are getting it. We are all the same, I tell them. As long as I know how to enter their property data in the MLS, they will have online exposure by virtue of the magic IDX (Internet Data Exchange, a standard for sharing online property information) feed. …CONTINUED
Add a listing syndication subscription and maybe a pretty Craigslist ad, and I will have your home in all three rings. My competitors do yard signs, and I do yard signs. Fliers or brochures? Roger that. It matters not whether my broker has 49 offices and a billboard in Times Square or one virtual office. Where the issue of advertising the home (not the brokerage) is concerned, we are all on a level playing field.
So the distinction, the real trick, is not in what we do but in how we do it, and the "how" is a bottom-up proposition. It is all about the individual agent. How do I take the photos? How do I craft the descriptive copy? How do I communicate with the client throughout the process and manage the transaction? How do I make you, not me, stand out? How are the ways in which I dispense the services unique and better?
I continue to cling to the notion that our clients are far more savvy than we give them credit for. The latest buzz about the sexy new brokerage model — the sleek, modernistic downscaled offices with Wi-Fi, sofas and gourmet coffee — is one I find curious.
It’s the same circus — we just reappeared after a brief intermission and a costume change. It is for show, but the office TIs (tenant improvements) are not the show.
Contrary to what the last agent with whom I competed told the customer, I do not work out of the parking lot at a local strip center. I do have an office, but I do work mostly out of my home. My office is modest and efficient. And it is completely unnecessary. In the past 30 days, a time during which we have closed seven transactions, I have been to that office a total of zero times. My husband has visited on three occasions — to pick up the mail.
I don’t see my clients ever flocking to the real estate office like the cast of "Friends," eager to share a cup of joe and watch listings roll across the plasma big-screen. They have already watched these same properties roll across their own computer screens at home. This design will draw a crowd, no doubt, just like the oversized office with the shiny lobby did yesterday.
The truth, though, is that it is an attention-grabber for the broker and for the agents they court. The shape or size of the broker’s office has virtually nothing to do with the work that the agents do today, and it has nothing to do with the success of the client’s real estate transaction.
The broker’s model and its trappings are only about the success of the brokerage, which is fine. Running a real estate brokerage, whatever the model, is never intended as a nonprofit undertaking. But, there are two shows going on, and our challenge is to help our customers understand the difference.
Kris Berg is broker-owner of San Diego Castles Realty. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.
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